Benitez hails Newcastle’s character

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez has praised his players’ fighting spirit after a creditable performance in the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday.

Mesut Ozil netted a stunning volley in the first half of the Premier League clash and the Gunners held on to their lead to send the Magpies into the relegation zone.

Despite the defeat and Newcastle’s league standing, Benitez remains optimistic about his side’s survival chances due to their strength of character and willingness to fight.

“Every game for us is important,” said Benitez, according to the Sunderland Echo.

“When I came nearly two years ago, the team was at the bottom and everything was negative. You could see no confidence or belief.

“Now, you have a team that might be in the bottom three, but still it’s a team with a lot of fight. There are a lot of young players and they are learning every game, putting in an effort.

“There are a lot of positives if you compare this team to that one. The other team had players with more experience that were established in the Premier League, but this team has more young players.

“We need to add what we need in terms of experience and quality to ensure we improve the balance of the team. Then we will be as competitive as we are now, but maybe with more experience and more quality, you will have more chances to win games.”

Klopp dislikes ‘fab four’ label

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is wary of too much being made of his four-man frontline, which is fast becoming the city’s second-favourite quartet.

Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino all scored as the Reds thrashed Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday while the fourth Beatle, Sadio Mane, watched from the bench.

Salah has now scored 20 goals in all competitions this season, but Klopp, perhaps wary of an impending dip in form, tried to pay down the hype.

“I’m looking forward to it that he stays in that shape and still plays like this,” Klopp said of Salah.

“He didn’t score against West Brom, for example, and we could have needed it much more in that game than today but things happen, I have no problem with it.

“He knows how much talk is always about Mo. He knows how much I respect and like him, but it’s not about the ‘Fab Four’. I don’t like that name as well.

“I don’t go home and think, ‘my God, what a player Mo Salah is, how good is he and all the others?’ That’s not how it works.”

Barca confident ahead of El Clasico


Barcelona lead the standings ahead of Saturday’s La Liga clash against Real Madrid, who return to Spain as Club World Cup champions.

Barca are eight points ahead of fourth-placed Madrid heading into the tie at the Bernabeu, with Atletico Madrid the closest challengers three points below in second place having played a game more.

“I don’t think a Clasico victory will give us the title,” said Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde. “Atletico are only six points behind.

“What we know is that this is a long competition, nobody will decide anything at this point.

“We’re heading into the game happy. We have a week of preparation left and are confident. It’s a tough game against a huge rival, but we’re eager to face them.”

Madrid recently defeated Brazilian side Gremio 1-0 to claim the FIFA Club World Cup trophy, leading the goal scorer in that final, Cristiano Ronaldo, to state that Barca should form a guard of honour ahead of El Clasico.

Both sides have performed the ritual to applaud the other’s success in La Liga or the Champions League, but Barca director Guillermo Amor ruled it out.

“We make it clear that we only do this when we participate in the competition,” Amor said after Barca beat Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 on Sunday.

“When we compete in the competition, we will do it but that is not the case. That’s the way it is.”


Barcelona cruise past Deportivo

Barcelona’s unbeaten start in La Liga this season continued as they swept aside Deportivo La Coruna 4-0 at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

  • Barcelona 4 Deportivo La Coruna 0
  • Barca strike woodwork six times
  • Braces for Suarez and Paulinho
  • Messi penalty saved by Ruben
  • Suarez also has goal disallowed

Match Summary

Ernesto Valverde’s side never looked like slipping up against the struggling Galician outfit, who were on the back foot for the majority of the contest in Catalonia.

Luis Suarez got Barca underway in the 29th minute and he scored again early in the second half, while Paulinho also netted in each half to seal a comprehensive victory which took take Barca 11 points clear of Real Madrid ahead of next weekend’s El Clasico.

Full Report

The hosts were switched on from the start and they should have opened the scoring after just three minutes, but Messi uncharacteristically fired over the crossbar in space from eight yards out.

Depor had a sniff at goal on 11 minutes when Celso Borges scuffed a shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from 17 yards out, although it was all Barca and Messi after that.

The Argentine ace fired straight at Ruben in the 14th minute after being picked out by Jordi Alba’s cutback and tested the visiting keeper again on 27 minutes from 12 yards out, before Aleix Vidal saw his volley at the back post tipped over seconds later.

Ruben then kept out Messi at the back post from a corner, although he was finally beaten just before the half-hour mark when Suarez converted a square pass from his fellow South American, who chested down Andres Iniesta’s ball over the defence.

The woodwork came to the visitors’ rescue for the first time on 37 minutes when Barca sprung a counter as Messi swapped passes with Suarez before cannoning a shot against the bar from 12 yards out.

Messi would strike the frame of the goal again on 41 minutes, this time from the edge of the box, but Paulinho followed up to tuck home the rebound from a tight angle on the left.

Suarez was denied what appeared to be a legitimate goal on the stroke of half-time when his rabona at the back post looked to have crossed the line as Ruben made the save on his line.

However, the Uruguayan would not be denied as he extended the Blaugrana’s lead two minutes after the restart with a finish at the back post from Sergi Roberto’s low cross from the right.

Carles Gil threatened for Depor 10 minutes into the second half as he fizzed a rising shot into the side-netting from outside the box on the right, but Barca remained in the ascendancy.

Messi hit the base of the right post with a curling free-kick from 25 yards out in the 67th minute and flashed an effort inches with of the other upright seconds later after slick passing in the final third.

Ruben denied Suarez his hat-trick soon afterwards with a save at the striker’s feet when he beat the offside trap to go clean through on goal, and the keeper guessed the correct way on 69 minutes to prevent Messi from getting on the scoresheet from the penalty spot, after Suarez had been brought down by substitute Federico Valverde.

Alba was next to struck the frame of the goal on 75 minutes after being played in on the left by Suarez, but Paulinho was the recipient of another kind bounce as he slotted home on the rebound.

Messi’s battle to find the back of the net continued on 80 minutes when he lashed a shot wide of the left post from just seven yards out after being played in by Vidal, who volleyed wide of the target himself moments later at the back post.

It was Suarez’s turn to strike the woodwork on 84 minutes as he latched onto Messi’s through-ball and hit the outside of the left post from eight yards out on the left, with Depor spared a hammering in the end.

Pardew: I picked the wrong team

West Brom boss Alan Pardew felt he contributed to Manchester United’s 2-1 win at the Hawthorns on Sunday by not picking the right team.

The 56-year-old made just one change from the team that held Liverpool to a goalless draw in midweek, with Oliver Burke coming in for Hal Robson-Kanu.

Pardew handed Burke his first Premier League start with the intention of causing United problems, but the hosts struggled to get going in the first half.

Trailing 2-0 at the break to goals from Romelu Lukaku (27′) and Jesse Lingard (35′), Gareth Barry replaced Claudio Yacob for the restart and the veteran midfielder pulled one back for Albion 13 minutes from time.

Chris Brunt was also introduced in the second half and it was from his corner that Barry scored, with Pardew admitting he should have made changes from the start.

“In hindsight, the team I picked was not the right team. I should have put some fresh legs in there,” he told Sky Sports after the Baggies went 16 league games without a win.

“They did so well at Liverpool, and as a new manager I wanted to show some faith in those players, but I should have maybe made two or three changes.

‘We looked leggy, we looked not up to the ball. But in the second half we were a lot better and had a lot more conviction to our play – that was the problem.

“We’ve got a full stadium, playing Manchester United, but we never really got the crowd going. I thought the crowd were quite rightly very quiet today, and that was down to us.

“We’re at home. You have to generate more excitement, more moments than we did today. Thank goodness we scored, for our fans really, to give them a lift that we can score a goal.

“We know this isn’t going to decide our season this game, it’s the ones going forward. It might be a lesson we’ve learnt today.

“[Confidence] is definitely a factor in terms of risk. You can’t play this game unless you take risks. We didn’t take risks with our passing. We had a lack of energy and I have to take some blame for that.”

Mourinho: Lukaku showed Albion respect

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho believes Romelu Lukaku chose not to celebrate his goal against West Brom on Sunday out of love for his former club.

The Belgian international’s non-celebration at the Hawthorns was the topic of hot discussion between pundits, who suggested it was a response to the criticism he has received of late.

It was a repeat of the scenes at Old Trafford on Wednesday when Lukaku scored the only goal of the game against Bournemouth, as United bounced back from the weekend derby defeat to Manchester City.

Mourinho played down the latest incident in his post-match interview, claiming that the 24-year-old striker was showing Baggies fans respect after turning out for the West Midlands outfit on loan from Chelsea during the 2012/13 season.

“I didn’t celebrate too. Nobody was happier than me, it’s just a question of profile,” the Portuguese coach said after the 2-1 away win.

‘I am happy, I’m happy with the victory. But 15 years ago I look at myself celebrating goals and now I feel a little ashamed with that, but with maturity you go into levels where you control your emotions better. Unless, I repeat, you score a winning goal in the last stage of a game.

“Also, I think Romelu had the fact that he was a happy kid at West Brom. He was a kid that was given all the conditions here to have the evolution he had. So probably in the back of his mind is that love for the club.”

Reds on fire against Cherries

Liverpool got back to winning ways in emphatic fashion as they brushed aside Bournemouth 4-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

  • Bournemouth 0 Liverpool 4
  • Solo Coutinho goal opens scoring
  • Lovren header doubles Reds’ lead
  • Salah adds third before half-time
  • Firmino seals convincing win

Match Summary

Jurgen Klopp’s side were on top in all aspects of the game and took the lead through Philippe Coutinho, before Dejan Lovren doubled their advantage soon afterwards.

Mohamed Salah struck just before half-time to put the Reds in command, with Roberto Firmino completing the scoring in the second half to take them back into the top four.

Full Report

The visitors came flying out of the blocks and Coutinho had three early chances before he opened the scoring with a trademark goal.

The Brazilian missed the target with a header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross from the right in the third minute and he hit the right post with a free-kick from just outside the area eight minutes later, before failing to test Asmir Begovic from distance soon afterwards.

Salah was next to threaten on 13 minutes with a curling effort from the edge of the box that flew over after he collected the ball on the right and cut back onto his left foot.

Simon Mignolet was called into action for the first time on 19 minutes as he made a routine save from former Red Jordan Ibe, but Coutinho broke the deadlock at the other 4end a minute later.

It was a typical goal from the Samba star, who was fed on the left by Andrew Robertson and advanced into the area before slotting past Begovic at his near post after beating two defenders.

Salah produced the same result from an identical move to his earlier strike on 22 minutes, although the visitors were celebrating their second goal just four minutes later.

The danger appeared to be over when a corner looped into the air beyond the back post, but Firmino did well to keep the ball in play and Lovren scored from close range with a diving header.

Eddie Howe’s men should have halved the deficit six minutes before half-time when Ibe played in Jermain Defoe, but the striker’s shot from 16 yards out came back off the left post.

Begovic pulled off a sharp save to deny Salah from close range on 43 minutes after he played a neat one-two with Coutinho, although the Egyptian got on the scoresheet moments later with a fine finish from eight yards out having gone on another mazy run on the right and skinning Charlie Daniels.

Substitute Ryan Fraser was presented with a good chance on 56 minutes from Defoe’s clever flick, but sliced his shot wide of the near post from inside the area on the left.

The woodwork came to the hosts’ rescue again three minutes later as Oxlade-Chamberlain won the ball off Ibe and drove into the box before hitting the outside of the left post.

Defoe tested Mignolet on the hour mark with a curling effort from 18 yards out on the left after the shifting the ball to his right, but the Reds wrapped things up on 66 minutes as Coutinho’s cross from the left was headed home by Firmino.

Coutinho’s final contribution saw him fire just wide of the left post from 20 yards out in the 86th minute, while his replacement, Danny Ings hit the side-netting with his first touch from 10 yards out after being played in by Adam Lallana.

Fellow sub Dominic Solanke forced Begovic into another good save in stoppage time after playing a one-two with Lallana, who headed over on the rebound.

Sarri lauds extraordinary player Hamsik

Maurizio Sarri had nothing but praise for Marek Hamsik as he equalled Diego Maradona’s all-time goalscoring record for Napoli in their 3-1 victory away to Torino on Saturday.

Kalidou Koulibaly had opened the scoring in the fourth minute at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino before Piotr Zielinski added a second with 25 minutes on the clock ahead of Hamsik’s historic goal, five minutes later.

Andrea Belotti netted a consolation goal for Torino just after the hour mark.

After the match, Sarri lauded the club captain for scoring his 115th goal after last finding the back of the net on October 1.

Sarri told Mediaset Premium: “We are talking about a player of an extraordinary level.

“If someone like him plays 45 games of an inferior level, you just have to accept it and stick by him with the certainty he’ll pay you back eventually. He’d been improving for the past few matches.”

Napoli claimed top spot on the Serie A table with this win after Inter Milan lost 3-1 at home to Udinese.

Sarri added: “My players knew what Inter had done and these are situations that can either help or hinder.

“They can give you the hunger to recapture the leadership, but can also pile extra pressure on. Today the lads did well to take the positive aspects from San Siro’s result.”

Spalletti sorrow following first Inter loss

Luciano Spalletti has said he felt sorrow following Inter Milan’s first Serie A defeat of the season at home to Udinese on Saturday.

Kevin Lasagna opened the scoring for the visitors to the Stadio Meazza on 14 minutes before an equaliser from the mercurial Mauro Icardi a minute later.

Rodrigo De Paul then restored Udinese’s lead from the penalty spot just after the hour mark, while Antonin Barak made sure of the points with his goal with 77 minutes played.

After the match, Spalletti told the club’s official website: “There’s sorrow like with all defeats.

“We’re not used to it anymore so there’s even more sorrow. But in the end we brought it on ourselves because we weren’t able to control the ball, we made errors and we were timid in our decision making.

“In the first part of the match, the team had the right balance and did very well, what happened at the start of the second half was unexpected.”

He added: “It did not turn out too well. We are not used to this, therefore the second half was something new for us.

“We will analyse everything from this match and then get back on track with what we’ve done so far.

“There wasn’t much between the two teams, although things become difficult when you are lacking something from your game and the other team can finish off their chances, just as Udinese did today.”

United claim all three points at Albion

Manchester United made it back-to-back wins in the Premier League as they beat struggling West Brom 2-1 at the Hawthorns on Sunday.

  • West Brom 1 Manchester United 2
  • Lukaku scores with United’s first chance
  • Lingard doubles lead with deflected shot
  • Barry halves deficit in second half
  • Albion winless in 16 league games

Match Summary

Jose Mourinho’s side took a deserved 2-0 lead into the break after Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring midway through the first half before Jesse Lingard’s deflected shot doubled their advantage.

But the Baggies improved in the second half and created a few chances before substitute Gareth Barry pulled one back 13 minutes from time. They continued to pile on the pressure in the closing stages, although United held on for all three points.

Full Report

The crowd witnessed a quiet opening to the match as both teams struggled in the final third, with the first attempt at goal only arriving on 25 minutes.

It came from Albion skipper Jonny Evans, who headed well over at the back post after getting on the end of a deep cross from the left.

United created their first chance two minutes later, which brought the opening goal as Marcus Rashford’s fine cross from the left was steered into the top-right corner of the net by the head of Lukaku.

The hosts looked to respond and Allan Nyom beat Rashford on the right byline in the 33rd minute before sending in a low cross towards Salomon Rondon at the near post, but Chris Smalling got there first.

However, the Red Devils took control moments later with their second goal, Lingard’s shot from 19 yards out taking a wicked deflection off Ahmed Hegazi and wrong-footing Ben Foster.

David De Gea was called into action for the first time in the final minute of the first half as he got down to his right to save Jake Livermore’s shot from 20 yards out.

The Baggies threatened again in the opening minute of the second half when Kieran Gibbs dragged an effort wide of the right post after linking up with Oliver Burke on the left.

De Gea had a routine more save to make from Barry’s tame shot 20 yards out in the 54th minute, while at the other end Rashford hit a first-time volley wide of the right post three minutes later after Antonio Valencia’s cross from the right was flicked into his path by Lingard.

Lingard fired straight at Foster from just inside the box on 59 minutes after combining with Lukaku on right following a counter, but United then went into their shell.

Pardew brought on Chris Brunt, whose introduction gave Albion some impetus as he played in Rondon on 74 minutes, but the striker was unable to beat De Gea from 17 yards out.

Brunt then volleyed well over on his right foot moments later from Hegazi’s good knockdown, before they pulled one back on 77 minutes with a close-range finish from Barry after a corner dropped at his feet.

Substitute Jay Rodriguez went for the spectacular eight minutes from time with a shot on the turn from the edge of the box on the left that was caught by De Gea at his near post, and striker should have done better when he directed a header wide of the near post from Brunt’s 85th-minute cross.